Harkey Construction thrives as Washington’s Lake Chelan booms.
By Chris Kelsch
Lake Chelan, Wash., is quite the place to build a custom home. Known as “The Napa Valley of the North” because of its proximity to 28 wineries, the area draws successful baby boomers from the Seattle-Tacoma area to build retirement homes. Just as importantly, many other successful entrepreneurs come here to build luxury vacation homes they can either live in or rent out during the summer months.
It is that second group of homebuyers that led to the creation of The Lookout at Lake Chelan. Located on Lake Chelan’s North Shore, about a mile from the town of Chelan, the development will consist of 325 homes when completed in 10-12 years and is designed to both maximize convenience and foster a sense of community.
With 60 homes already completed, the community is being built following the “New Urbanism” philosophy, which calls for fairly dense housing to be built around playgrounds and other public spaces, fostering connections between neighbors. At The Lookout, bike paths and pedestrian trails will link the community to downtown Chelan and public parks.
The contractor of The Lookout is Harkey Construction & Development, Inc. Founded by Dave Harkey in 1993, Harkey originally specialized in building custom homes. That changed in 2013, however. Coming out of the recession, Ted Schroth of GTS Development in Seattle started the Lookout, and approached Harkey about being the contractor for vertical construction
“Kudos to Ted,” Harkey says. “He brought a lot of vision and a lot of experience in building in the Seattle area, which helped get this project off the ground.” Schroth also brought a great deal of marketing savvy. “Ted really knows who to market to within the Seattle area, using a variety of mediums to advertise The Lookout.”
The new project required Harkey to split his company into two divisions because The Lookout presented a foray into the semi-custom home market, which can be different from the custom homes Harkey was accustomed to building. The new project has been a welcome addition for Harkey, who estimates there is at least 10 more years of building to ultimately finish the project.
When one looks at the demographics, it’s easy to see why he is optimistic about ongoing growth. Though the population of Chelan and the surrounding area is listed as 4,500, during the summer months that number swells to 40,000 people. Harkey estimates that among the new homes being built, 60 percent will be used for rentals while the other 40 percent will be used by their original owners.
The continuous, long-term project brings an added bonus for Harkey Construction, allowing it to keep a core group of crew workers and subcontractors together. Previously, during the winter months some would need to look for additional work. Now, according to Harkey, they are able to stay year round
“The employees and subcontractors mean everything to us, ,” Harkey says. “They really represent the talent in the organization.” For Harkey, the opportunity also represents a chance to repay some of the loyalty his workers showed during the recession. “During the downturn, we didn’t skip a beat,” Harkey says. “What I have discovered is if you can keep workers and crew members busy, they will definitely go the extra mile for you.” Having a core group of loyal employees and subcontractors to work with has proved helpful for Harkey. For one, the Lake Chelan area can be difficult to get to from the Seattle region, as there are only a few passes through the Cascade Mountains that drivers can use, and those are subject to severe weather conditions and unsafe roads. That can make delivery times of materials somewhat unpredictable.
“For a week or so here and there, you can be without materials,” Harkey says. Needless to say, the weather can also affect building schedules. Harkey notes that excavation work stops during the winter season, though for the last three years crews have been able to pour concrete as late as December or January.
For Harkey, the relationships he develops with customers are just as important as the ones he has with subcontractors and employees. Indeed, Harkey has been a local resident for 24 years himself, and knows he is working for future residents and neighbors.
“At the end of the process, if I can’t walk up to you in a grocery store or when I’m out and about and shake your hand, then I have failed,” Harkey says. “I tell each potential customer that this is going to be a close-knit relationship.”
Given his commitment to his workers and his customers, The Lookout is in many ways just the beginning for Harkey.